Going into the back nine on the final day, Hideki Matsuyama saw himself five shots behind Russell Henley but, thanks to a sublime final nine, he managed to force a playoff, with a 276-yard three-wood coming up just a foot shy at the very first playoff hole. This incredible shot set up an historic eagle and victory, a victory that would also tie the most PGA Tour wins by an Asian-born player.
It’s not as if Henley had done anything wrong during the final round. For context, there have been 31 instances where a player held the 54-hole lead and shot 65 or better in a final round, 29 of them went on to win. The two who didn’t were Abraham Ancer at the 2020 RBC Heritage and now Henley at the 2022 Sony Open.
Speaking about his comeback victory, Matsuyama said “Russell was playing so beautifully the front nine, but at the turn I was thinking ‘he can’t keep this up, can he?’ I was able to birdie 10 and then a two-shot swing at 11 and then the game was on again.
“To be able to win back-to-back with Zozo (Championship) and here with at the Sony, and especially on a course that I haven’t really played that well. It’s a tough golf course for me, but I had a great time, got sunburned because it was hot, but I’m still very happy.
UNREAL SHOT. 😳 Hideki delivers a beauty from 277 yards out on the first playoff hole! pic.twitter.com/qT8ByiAVrmJanuary 17, 2022
Having shot a third round 63, Matsuyama started two shots back of Henley in what would become a two-way battle throughout the day at Waiʻalae Country Club. Beginning with pars, it was the Japanese star who settled in the quicker of the two, with Matsuyama cutting the lead to one after four holes thanks to his two birdies.
It was 2013 Sony Open winner, Henley, who finished the nine the better of the two though, and, when we say better, we mean incredibly, with three consecutive birdies and an eagle for good measure closing out a front nine of just 29 shots. This also gave the American a comfortable margin of five strokes.
Five back with nine to play was looking like a tall-order for Matsuyama, but to begin the back nine, the five shot gap turned into two, with a birdie at 10 being followed by a two-shot swing at 11.
Another gain was made at the 15th, with Matsuyama’s nerve holding on the 18th, as a final birdie got him to the magical 23-under-par mark with Henley, forcing a playoff that would see arguably one of the best shots we will see in 2022.
Putting his drive onto the fairway, the Masters champion had 276 yards into the pin at the first playoff hole and, what can only be described as the shot of the year so far, his bullet fading three-wood drifted perfectly onto the flag, landing like a duck to water and rolling to tap-in range.
The approach was reminiscent of that at the 2021 Zozo Championship, where Matsuyama put his 250+ yard approach shot to near gimme range there. Back in Hawaii though, Henley couldn’t follow his opponent, this left Matsuyama to tap-in for eagle and claim his eighth PGA Tour title.
That eighth title is also an historic one for the Japanese star, with Matsuyama tying KJ Choi for the most wins by an Asian-born player. After securing another tournament victory, Matsuyama spoke about the incredible shot that transpired on 18, saying “it was a perfect number for me for a cut 3-wood, 276 yards left to right, follow wind.
“I knew the green was soft enough to hold it, and I was able to pull it off. To be honest I didn’t even see it, but everybody started cheering and I knew it was good. Since my Masters win my life has changed because the pressure of not winning a Major has been gone for me.”
A dramatic effort to seal win No. 8 for Hideki. 👏 pic.twitter.com/bOrMvGhAZHJanuary 17, 2022
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